How To Integrate Gamification: The NYC School Quest To Learn Case

A NYC School's Decision To Integrate Gamification In All Subjects

Yes, you read that correctly, the school Quest To Learn has created a program that aims to integrate gamification into everything they do, 100% of the time. The reason they’ve chosen this path is because they believe that they shouldn’t try to keep the modern, in terms of digital media and games, outside the classroom. Instead, they feel they should embrace it as the new learning paradigm and turn it into a part of the learning process.

Sound crazy? If you would have told people that cinematography had any role to play in the classroom at the turn of last century, they would have called you nuts as well. Now every school has classes dedicated to it and almost every class makes use of it. And that while cinematography is quite passive, with information flowing in only one direction. Games do not have this problem.

And so, the question becomes, can it go a step further? Could it become the new method through which everything gets learned and taught? Could we give up on the idea that the way we teach is the only way that children have to be taught?

It’s a scary idea to be certain, but very often this is the only way a revolution can get started – by a complete and total rejection of the old paradigm.

The Plan To Integrate Gamification In School Subjects: How It Works

The belief is that school could be far more participatory than it is today as well as –gasp– fun. In this spirit the school does not aware grades, but rather levels of expertise, like game levels, which range from "pre-novice" to "master". The process of learning is activated through them figuring out how games work, defeating villains, and by working in groups to overcome multi-faceted challenges.

They don’t just play games, however, but they also design games, where they learn problem solving skills, group work, and team planning exercises. In many ways you could compare the entire exercise to problem-based learning, where the kids work to solve some large overarching problem in small steps throughout the 10 week program. Except, of course, that it’s all been designed around game play.

Classes have been renamed and are now about taking and combining skills, such as mathematics and English, and applying them to solving and completing quests. These don’t always have to be computer-based. For example, in one class the children are reading the works of Aesop and transforming them into plays (which will then be created in the computers) for other children to watch and absorb.

They are, however, always about advancing "systems thinking" so that these children have the capacity to manage complex problems easily and break them down into more manageable chunks so that they will not be overwhelmed.

The School According To The State

And this doesn’t seem to work at all badly. The school has been running since 2009 and it scores solidly in the middle of the NYC school pack. That might not sound that impressive, but you have to remember that by deciding to integrate gamification the school is trying something utterly new and developing the tools to do so, while traditional schooling has had centuries to develop their system of teaching.

What’s more, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was at least some resistance in the educational board to this type of an idea, would you? And yet the school still scores solidly. So it would seem that simply sending your kid here does not turn them into game addicted zombies with square eyes and no personality, at least based on the scoring of the New York Department of Education.

And really, if you think about it, that it works isn’t actual that surprising.

Most Schools Are Just Games With Really Boring Rules 

Games are a set of artificial rules and restrictions imposed from outside, where by following the rules and satisfying the pre-set conditions you move upwards and onwards, until you eventually "win" and the game ends.

Doesn’t that sound exactly like what a school is? Except, of course, that in the case of the school game a real effort has been made to take as much of the exercise as is humanly possible.

At Quest to Learn they’ve tried to bring that element of fun and engagement back into the process. And that doesn’t seem like such a bad idea, really as engagement is one of the most sure-fire ways for us to teach, be it kids or adults.

Does that mean we should all embrace this kind of teaching? Maybe it’s a little bit early for that. Quest to Learn needed quite a large cash-injection to buy all the machinery it needed to integrate gamification. This was supplied by such outfits as the MacArthur Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and is not something all of us have in our back pocket. What’s more, it doesn’t seem wise to me to just abandon everything through more traditional teaching methods, such as how writing benefits the brain and body as well as the power of traditional learning to teach researching skills, world facts, and listening skills.

Still, the lessons that this school teach us are most certainly valuable and that is to see the learning process as something that doesn’t actually have to be a chore and resented by students of any age.

In fact, I think the kids down at Quest to Learn said it best. The goal of every game they all tell you is to make it hard to beat, but even harder to put down. And that seems like an obvious enough insight. But if it is so obvious that a six grader can figure it out, why is it that the entire educational system still struggles to embrace this philosophy in this massive "game" that they’ve created?

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